World premiere of ‘She Has A Name’ in Calgary on Feb. 23
Number 18 is a prostitute. Deprived of her name and of her freedom, the 15-year-old girl is enslaved in Thailand’s sex trade. But, a Canadian lawyer has arrived at the brothel where she is forced to sell herself to expose the injustice of human trafficking.
Although fictional, this plot is an attempt by a local author to depict the reality of modern-day slavery through theatre. The play, titled “She Has A Name,” has its world premier in Calgary on Feb. 23.
The Red Deer-based playwright, Andrew Kooman, said his motive for writing the script was to “make the story of slavery human and to engage the overwhelming statistics that are hard to access emotionally.” To do this, he drew upon true accounts of gender-based injustice in order to accurately illustrate the issue.
Jason, played by Aaron Krogman, pleads with Number 18, played by Denise Wong, to assist him in his pursuit of justice.
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Krogman and Burnt Thicket Theatre.
The First Steps
While attending a justice-focused conference, Kooman became exposed to the issue of human trafficking; the black-market trade enslaves approximately 27 million people globally according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Following the conference, Kooman began to write “She Has A Name.” He eventually met a Calgary director, Stephen
Waldschmidt, who expressed interest in producing the play through Burnt Thicket Theatre after reading the script.
Waldschmidt told the story of the first time he read the manuscript: “I couldn’t put it down. It was actually only the second script that I’ve ever read that I couldn’t stop reading. It was so intense.
“It’s a bit strange, perhaps, but the soles of my feet were sweating because I was so anxious to find out what would happen. By the end of it, I was hooked,” Waldschmidt said.
A public reading of the play was held in January of 2010 with an incomplete script and amateur actors. The director recalled the surprising reception at the event: “It wasn’t the ideal reading, but the audience’s response to it, in spite of that, just blew me away.
“There was just stunned silence at the end of it. We were trying to get people to give some feedback about the story, and nobody wanted to say anything. Finally, somebody in the back asked, ‘Steve, what can we do?’” Waldschmidt said.
Not Just a Pamphlet
“At a basic level, people need to care in order to do something. In order to care, you need to be convinced that someone’s life is valuable.”
author of “She Has a Name”
Kooman said the question of “What can we do?” exemplified the underlying intent of the story. “The reason this play can be effective is that it can really affirm the value of human life. At a basic level, people need to care in order to do something. In order to care, you need to be convinced that someone’s life is valuable.”
To aid in the participation of the audience in action against human trafficking, the play has partnered with Raise Their Voice, a registered society with the mission of using creative means to advocate for justice. At every show, the society will provide the audience with information and opportunities to engage with abolitionist organizations.
The Criminals Are Human Too
Aaron Krogman will be playing two roles in the production. He will be both the lawyer and pimp of the brothel. Contrary to potential expectation, Waldschmidt will not attempt to disguise this. In fact, he said the dichotomy will aid in the telling of the story by reminding audiences that the perpetrators of human trafficking reside in our city and country.
Waldschmidt is also ensuring that the play does not unravel into the stereotypical ‘good versus evil tale’. Throughout the story, he said he wants to emphasize that in spite of the horrifically unjust actions of the traffickers, each of the criminals has a story.
“Even with the pimp, who is the darkest character in the play, I want to find the reasons for his behaviour and help Aaron to act that rather than just to play the character like Darth Vader,” the director stated. Using another analogy, Waldschmidt said he doesn’t want the audience to dismiss the antagonists as Hitler-like characters, but to acknowledge their humanness.
Through the use of the voices, the audience will learn fragments of Number 18’s past. In other scenes, the background of the character of the Mama-san, played by Rosebud Theatre student Sienna Howell-Holden, will be revealed.
A major challenge of rehearsing for the production will be the depiction of the brutally violent underworld of human trafficking, according to Waldschmidt. The director, who has performed a rape scene on stage as an actor, said that it will be a challenge to figure out how to illustrate this barbarity without being pornographic but while retaining the intensity of the injustice.
Denise Wong, who is playing the 15-year-old prostitute, said: “At the moment, I’ve kept a bit of an arms length from the material and approached it very intellectually. It will be very interesting, and I’m excited to delve into it once rehearsals start. I need to look at it from the character’s perspective as one who is fighting to live,” said Wong, who was trained in theatre at the Mount Royal University Conservatory.
The Power of Theatre
Despite the potential difficulties, the director of “She Has A Name” said he believes theatre is an exceptionally strong tool to convey social issues. “Information doesn’t actually motivate us. It’s actually our emotions that motivate us,” said
Waldschmidt, who studied the value of theatre in graduate school.
Krogman described the experience of theatre as a combination of storytelling, spoken word, and sound dropping into people’s ears and then into their hearts. “More than anything, the art form can really unlock the human capacity to feel empathy,” the actor of the character of Jason said.
Upon leaving the theatre, Kooman urges Calgarians to evaluate their own passions and interests and how they may be used to contribute to the end of slavery. “At the heart of it, Canadians need to know, they need to care and they need to act,” the author concluded.
“She Has A Name” will be performed at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts from Feb. 23 to March 5.
For more information, visit burntthicket.com.